Okay. Before we start today, have a look at this awesome video! After I watched the video, I tried to snap my fingers to chanin-chanin! It didn’t quite work and it made me remember how many years ago, my best friend spent a crazy amount of time trying to get me to do it “right.” Despite her efforts and 25 years of being Guatemalan, I still can’t make the snapping sound. Now the important question: were you able to do it? It’s okay if you can’t! That makes two of us! Either way, this expression and hand gesture has an important influence on Guatemalan culture.
Chanin, chanin-chanin, or the hand movement that accompanies those words, is ingrained in Guatemalan culture in an inexplicable way. Whether or not they actually say the words, everyone does this hand movement. Some people do it everywhere, others do it only in the familiarity of their homes. Some make it snap, while others just shake their hands like pom poms (and I raise my hand to this!!!). The video got me thinking that I do it a lot (and I mean a LOT) more often than I initially thought I do. It’s just one of those things that you learn at a very young age because everyone around you does it!
What is ‘chanin chanin’?
Let’s divide this in two and explore its meaning:
- Words: Saying ‘chanin’ or ‘chanin-chanin’
- Gesture: The famous finger snapping hand movement
The origin of the word chanin
Guatemala’s official language is Spanish. However, different cultural groups across the country speak another 24 officially recognized languages! Yes, that’s a lot of languages for one country! 22 out of those 24 languages are Mayan languages spoken by indigenous people.
Now, going back to chanin and Guatemalan Spanish. Because of the cultural exchange that exists between the various groups in Guatemala, Mayan languages have influenced – and still are influencing – Spanish greatly! Many words we use in Guatemalan Spanish, like chanin, originate from a Mayan language. Chanin, in particular, means apúrate, or hurry up.
To practice some Spanish reading, visit Guatemala’s official page on our linguistic heritage: Guatemala, un País con Diversidad Étnica, Cultural y Lingüística. There are also some maps for you to see where these different cultures and languages exist! You can also check out these Top 5 Spring Break Destinations in Guatemala and compare the places listed here to where each Mayan language is spoken.
Origin of the chanin gesture
As for the hand movement, I’ve been asking some abuelitas, and no one really knows where it comes from. I can only assume that someone, one day, really needed to get something done. So, they started shaking their hands to communicate a sense of urgency to another person who spoke a different one of the 24 languages. Since they couldn’t understand each other with words, hand gestures had to do the job!
Imagine if you’re in the middle of something and someone starts frantically shaking their hands to signal that you should hurry up – believe me – you’ll hurry up!
The Languages of Guatemala
Languages are directly related to ethnic groups and culture. There are four different ethnic groups in Guatemala and one uses different languages:
Learn more about Guatemala’s culture and ethnic groups here!
*Information on the number of native speakers from 2002 Census.
Spanish in the context of indigenous languages in Guatemala
Although Spanish is the “main” official language of Guatemala, a big percentage of the population does not speak Spanish! But how does this happen? The Spanish arrived in Guatemala almost 500 years ago in 1524 AD and as part of their colonization, they taught the indigenous people Spanish.
While 500 years may seem like enough time for everyone to learn Spanish, Guatemala is a country divided (and united!) by different cultures and landscapes. The various groups did not always accept a new language being imposed on them (who would?). Plus, the fact that some villages are so far removed from political, economic, or cultural centers allowed for many to just keep living their life without needing to learn a new language.
This is all now changing, but we’ll talk more about Spanish in Guatemala in another blog post! In the meantime, you can read a little something on Guatemalan history here.
Something to keep in mind: The Spanish of each Spanish-speaking country is greatly influenced by the languages the indigenous populations spoke or still speak! That’s the reason why there are sometimes big differences in the words the people of different Spanish-speaking countries use.
Y ahora, and now, exploremos the other languages of Guatemala!
According to the 2002 census, 41% of the Guatemalan population identify themselves as indigenous (descendants of the Mayans). All these people speak various Mayan languages, and each one is a descendant of the language Protomaya, which came to life some 6,000 years ago! Yes, it’s been a long time! There are now 22 indigenous Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, each spoken by a different cultural group! And yes, each one of them is a language of their own (not a *dialect!) with unique grammar, sounds, and vocabulary!
Let’s have a look at these 22 Mayan languages:
*dialect: “A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.” Thanks, Oxford English Dictionary!
As you can see, only a very small percentage of the population speaks each of the Mayan languages! These numbers have greatly decreased in the last few years and are still rapidly declining due to multiple reasons. For one, technology is only available in certain languages. Similarly, most services and information are only accessible in Spanish. People are also moving to bigger cities for work or studies, and because of that many families consider it more important for their children to learn Spanish than an indigenous Mayan language. Parents and grandparents have struggled to live in a country where they cannot speak the official language, and they don’t want their children to have that same experience.
However, it’s important to mention that Guatemala’s government and different NGOs have started campaigns to promote Mayan language learning in schools and through any possible platform. The thing is, a language is not only a set of words we use to communicate with others. Languages carry the entire historical background of a whole culture! As such, it is important to value and cherish each Mayan language as much as we value and cherish all those beautiful colors we see when we visit a Guatemalan market!
Check out these quotes by Guatemalans to understand a little bit more about the importance of language as part of a culture: Discovering Treasures Through Spanish Quotes
Xinca is a language that doesn’t belong to the same group as the other 22 indigenous Mayan languages. Its origin is unknown, but it used to be widely spoken throughout Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. While some sources say the language is extinct, others say there are currently only about 100 people who speak this language.
Garifuna is the only language from the Arawakan language family spoken in Central America. All other languages from this language family that are not extinct, are spoken in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname. Up until 1797 when the Garifuna people were deported to Honduras, the language was only spoken in some Antillean Islands. Now, a total of about 200,000 people speak this language throughout Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, and the US. If you’d like to learn more about the Garifuna culture, check out this documentary film in Garifuna language (and English): Garifuna in Peril.
Language is a huge part of culture! When you learn a language, you’re not only learning to say things with other words, but you’re venturing into a new world of ideas and customs. Continue learning more about Guatemalan culture and language by scheduling a FREE CLASS with us today!Read More
As a parent, you want the best for your child – especially where education is concerned. When it comes to foreign language, sometimes our local options fall short as we don’t always have access to native teachers. Therefore, many people turn to online alternatives for second-language courses, such as Spanish classes. However, good Spanish programs can be lengthy and difficult, especially if you choose a program that doesn’t fit your child’s needs. Is it worth it to invest in a private instructor? Do Spanish textbooks alone work? What about the multiple online software programs?
Weighing your options is always a good idea. Below, you will find 5 popular alternative Spanish classes for children and teenagers. If you are looking at courses for adults, please visit our blog here. ¡Vamos!
Although you may not consider these options to be exclusively ‘online’ programs, they are quite popular with families looking for Spanish fluency. These applications are very similar in structure (for a more detailed description, click here) and offer interactive activities to enforce learned vocabulary and grammar. Memrise has a more game-like vibe, while Duolingo is a little more focused on grammar. However, with Memrise you can choose from hundreds of Spanish courses made by users. This ensures your child learns what they need for their level or what peaks their interest. Duolingo also offers a placement test so your students start right at the level they need.
You can find both programs online or on your phone as an application. The free versions offer a variety of language learning options, such as games, vocabulary exercises, pronunciation, and writing. Although there are not live teachers helping your child along, he or she can watch short videos of natives speaking and listen to authentic pronunciations.
Rosetta Stone is a favorite among families looking for authentic Spanish classes. Developed in 1992, this program is a Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) software. In other words, the student learns with an automated program.
The platform uses images, text, sound, and repetition to help your child learn Spanish. It also analyzes aspects of your student’s progress to help them learn at their own pace and enjoy the process. For example, it tracks how many questions the student answered correctly, how accurate their pronunciation is, and how long each lesson is taking. However, like the apps, there is no live instructor to help the student along.
So, those first two options don’t offer any live teachers to guide your child through their learning journey. A private instructor is always a plus, especially if your child is quite young. Are there any affordable options available with personal instructors? Let’s look at the Kids’ Club Spanish School.
This platform is a bit newer, created in 2017. The classes allow the child to sit down with a live teacher and interactive software to learn Spanish. The backbone of the program is the
Panda Tree is another program that offers live Spanish instruction at your own convenience. This one offers classes in both Chinese and Spanish, and it has been in operation for 5 years. Just like the Kids’ Club Spanish School, the classes utilize interactive software ideal for younger children. This way, kids can sit down with their teacher as if they were in a real classroom. The learners also have access to additional songs and activities to practice with outside of class.
However, this platform doesn’t offer a free trial class to see if it is a good fit for your child. Another drawback both Panda Tree and Kids’ Club Spanish School have is that there is a maximum age limit. Many high school students need Spanish credits to graduate or to apply to college, but these programs are geared mainly towards younger students.
Spanish Academy, though, offers live classes to all ages – preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school. There is even a program for you, mom and dad! This platform combines personal classes at your convenience with a written curriculum so your child has a complete learning experience. If you have two kids that want to learn together, you can even sign them up to study at the same time. That way, they can have more fun learning Spanish together!
Best of all, the price for classes are significantly lower than both Panda Tree and Kids’ Club Spanish School, even though all three programs offer live, personalized classes online. The only drawback is that availability with Spanish Academy may be limited during the school year because of its great popularity.
Is your little learner ready to start learning Spanish? Click here to sign up for a free class today and give your child a brighter future!Read More
¡Hola, vos! Vos. Who or what is vos in Spanish? In English, we use the personal pronoun ‘you’ when referring to the second person singular (or plural – don’t worry, we’ll save that one for another time!). In Spanish, however, there are different ways to refer to the same concept! Before we start, take a moment to review the basics of Spanish Pronouns.
Now, you’ve probably heard of tú, the most standard form. There is also usted, which we use to show respect or create distance between us and the person we’re speaking with. And then there is vos! Have you heard about vos before? Why is there even a need for three words that refer to the same concept? Let’s just say, one of the beauties of language is that it doesn’t always make sense!
The following vocabulary will be useful throughout this post:
Vos in context
Vos is mostly a part of informal speech. If you imagine a horizontal line, usted is on the very left wearing formal attire, tú is right in the middle being all dressy casual, and vos is on the far right end wearing jeans and a T-shirt. In some places or circumstances, vos might even be more informal, wearing shorts and flip-flops. It all depends on the social context and region!
Interestingly enough, vos originates from an archaic form of Spanish in which vos was the way to address kings and other important people. Back then, it was the way to show respect in Spain! As the Spanish language continued evolving both in the old continent and in the Americas, the formal use of vos disappeared from common speech.
Vos in its formal form is now only used during special ceremonial events or in literary works that reflect the language of other times. A great example of a literary work that uses vos in the formal form is the oldest preserved Spanish epic poem: El Cantar de mio Cid.
The use of vos doesn’t only have an impact in the conjugation of the present tense. It also influences the conjugation of the verb when used in an imperative mood – when using commands: (vos) hacé instead of (tú) haz, (vos) tené instead of (tú) ten. If you need a refresher on basic Spanish commands, visit our Spanish commands blog.
The conjugation of verbs in the subjunctive also changes: (vos) hagás instead of (tú) hagas, (vos) tengás instead of (tú) tengas.
In the tables below you can see examples of the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs in the present tense, imperative, and subjunctive!
As you can see, the irregular verbs conjugated in vos have more of a regular verb conjugation since the stem doesn’t always change as it does with the verb conjugated in tú:
Different forms of vos
As you know, Spanish is the official language of many countries: 21 to be exact! Go have a look at some of the flags of these countries here. The Spanish language has evolved differently in various regions. Therefore, there are three forms of ‘
- vos pronoun paired with the vos conjugation
- tú pronoun paired with the vos conjugation
- vos pronoun paired with the tú conjugation
Let’s have a look at some examples:
Vos in a map
As mentioned above, how people use vos in Spanish depends on the region or country. This distinction encompasses both the combination of pronoun and conjugation and the context in which speakers use vos. Below you can find some examples from different regions:
Mexicans mainly use both the tú pronoun and conjugation. Only in southern states like Tabasco and Chiapas speakers use vos in very specific social contexts: it’s either used by the unschooled population or in the family circle of educated people.
Most Central American countries generally accept the use of vos in all social classes. Slightly more formal situations require the use of tú pronoun + tú conjugation. The use of vos has two levels in this region:
- Most common: tú pronoun + vos conjugation
- More informal: vos pronoun + vos conjugation
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay
The region of Río de Plata accepts the use of the vos pronoun + vos conjugation without any reservations. However, using the pronoun tú + vos conjugation can be seen as more prestigious than using the vos pronoun + vos conjugation. To learn more about Spanish in this particular region, visit Spanish from Argentina, That Voseo Thing.
So, recuerda (tú) or recordá (vos) – just keep in mind – that if you ever want to use vos, you should first learn how it is used in the country or region you’re in! In some regions, you only use the vos pronoun, vos conjugation, or both together. And while in some places it’s okay to use it the first time you meet someone, in others you only use it when you’re really close to the other person.
It may seem like a lot to take into account just for one pronoun, but practice makes it a lot easier. ¡Vos podés! Are you ready to practice? We have exercises for you with a helpful answer key. Start today!Read More
There are many reasons to learn a new language beyond earning some required school credits or reading the street signs on your next trip abroad. A new language can make a student as young as five years old more caring, more intelligent and an all-around amazing individual. Here are just 5 of many important benefits of learning a foreign language.
A Bigger, Better Functioning Brain
A person who is bilingual can honestly claim to have a better brain. Scientists in Sweden used an MRI scan to look at the physical effects that language lessons can have on young craniums. The results were clear – a second language makes for a larger brain.
The young learners who focused on a new language had visible growth in the hippocampus; a part of the brain that controls emotional development, long-term memory and spatial navigation.
Other results included growth in the cerebral cortex sections in charge of language learning. Other studies have observed an increase in grey matter, which helps the brain with executive functions. Want your little one to be a more well-rounded learner? Make language a part of their day.
Improved ‘Mother Tongue’ Mastery
While many think of language lessons as something that should come later in life, the truth is that children between three and eight years old can soak up a new set of words and see the results in their native language.
When children study Spanish or any language new to them, they start to see their own language differently. Time with new grammar helps them see mistakes in written English, helps them communicate more clearly and have an easier time reading and writing. Many children who learned a second language at a younger age had an easier time learning to read in their mother tongue.
Monolingual children are extremely empathetic and sensitive, but those who get a chance to express themselves in a new way get a different perspective; one from a new person whom they’ve never met.
Learners raised in bilingual environments, or who get the chance to speak in more than one language, are more aware of other countries and different means of expression. They aren’t intimidated by the sound of a new language and are more likely to be curious or understanding. They also consider another person’s perspective instead of rejecting it. That is learning at its finest.
Possible Delay of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
As mentioned before, speaking more than one language can make for a bigger and better brain. But did you know that bilingualism may also help slow or possibly resist cognitive brain issues associated with aging? According to several studies, regularly speaking more than one language forces structural changes in the brain as it is required to work harder. Over time, the brain develops a “cognitive reserve” which makes the bilingual brain stronger and, as a result, may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and/or dementia.
We all want what’s best for our children. We encourage healthy habits like eating well and engaging in physical exercise as there are known long-term effects. Learning to speak another language certainly has brain health benefits and is another way to set your child up for a healthy future.
As we become more reliant on technology, the workplace is changing and the demand for creative, unusual thinkers is on the rise. How do we keep that right brain working hard? We expose it to language.
Many evaluations of bilingual children have shown them to be better at solving problems than those who never learn a second language. Because they use parts of their brain more often and in different ways than their classmates, they feel more confident tackling a new challenge.
These are just 5 important benefits of learning a foreign language. Have more to add to this list? Feel free to share with the HSA community in the comments below!Read More